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February 18 2011


How an Atlanta Ice Skater Made a Viral Video Go Worldwide

Every city has at least one iconic street. New York has Broadway. Los Angeles has Sunset Boulevard. Chicago has Lake Shore Drive. Atlanta? It has Peachtree Street.

And one frozen night in early January, within blocks of the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone with the Wind," Peachtree became more than a street -- an urban rebel christened it as an ice rink.

Peachtree St. Ice Rink in Midtown from A.Nendel on Vimeo.

There's an old saying that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. An Atlanta man named Andrew Nendel decided that when life gives you ice, go skating.

Videos of Nendel zipping up and down Peachtree between 11th and 14th Streets in Midtown Atlanta have received more than 200,000 hits and have been televised worldwide.

The Back Story

The Southern city that's been known to grind to a halt at a half-inch of snow got several inches Sunday night, January 9. A sheet of ice topped things off on Monday. Icy roads shut down schools and businesses for almost a week.

At about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, videographer and web developer Brian Danin and his wife Valerie were out walking near their Midtown loft.

"We kept saying, 'if only we had ice skates!'" he recalls. Then they saw Nendel. "Wow -- there's somebody actually with ice skates," Danin said.

This was the "money shot" of the city's worst winter storm in 15 years right in front of him. Even though Danin didn't have the gear he's accustomed to, he had his Droid X smartphone.

"It was one of those ironic moments," Danin said. So he held the camera still, braced himself against a street lamp, held his breath, followed the action, and then posted the result on YouTube.

"I knew while I was taking the video, 'Wow -- this is really cool,'" Danin recalls.

The Viral Effect

But he had no idea how popular it would become. "On a different one of my YouTube channels, I have 85 videos," Danin says. "This one video beat the other channel entirely within about four days. My mother-in-law from Colorado called saying she saw it on the news there."

Nendel, the skater, handed his pocket video recorder to a security guard and uploaded the result to Facebook, Vimeo and CNN iReport.

"I never expected this video to go viral or become so widespread throughout the news community," Nendel told me via email. "I just made the video for myself to document the night I ice skated on a major road in Atlanta." But when he woke up the next day, it was everywhere. Media outlets all over the world picked up the clip.

"My video has gone international!!!! Hello Canada, UK, and Holland," Nendel tweeted jubilantly.

CNN Student News anchor Carl Azuz closed his January 13 newscast with it, saying, "Of everyone who's ever passed through the middle of downtown Atlanta, this guy's gotta be one of the only people ever to do it on ice skates."

First Time Skating in Years

Nendel, who said his schedule was too tight for a phone interview, put enough info online to paint a picture of how the night developed. He hadn't ice skated in years, but kept his skates because he wants to get back to playing hockey and maybe coach. The storm gave him an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"When walking home I came up with the crazy idea of ice skating on the road in Midtown from 11th to 14th street," Nendel wrote on Vimeo. "The thickness of the ice on the street was just like a pond back home in Indiana and seemed perfect. I skated for about an hour while people walking by took video and drivers on the street were just confused."

People's comments summed up their delight. "Just awesome...saw this on the news the other day -- something bright in the doom-and-gloom-and-oh-no-we're-out-of-milk-and-bread news broadcasts that have been going on," posted one admirer.

"Would you skate over my way and bring me a few things i'm running low on...I still can't get to a store and I'm out of coffee and half & half," joked another.

The video became emblematic of the pressure on the city and the state to clear the roads and get things back to normal.

"I was a little surprised how long it took to get plows out on the road," Danin says, adding that, "the first plows I saw come down Peachtree Street were Tuesday evening." He saw the first one near midnight and snapped a photo -- almost 24 hours after Nendel's ice capade.

Nendel was surprised at how long it took as well. "After the video was posted and then viewed by many via local news, Peachtree Street in front on my building was cleared within two days," he says. "The rest of the street though took a bit longer."

Clearing the Street

That Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed met with reporters at the now-cleared intersection of Peachtree and 14th -- part of what had been Nendel's public ice rink -- to say the city had ramped up snow removal efforts.

What did Nendel think of that?

"I honestly didn't think much about it, due to the video being made just for fun and not to promote some awareness of the road situation in Atlanta," he says. "I believe the Mayor handled the press situation well and the town did what they could with what they had readily available. My big complaint about the roads is all the mounds of dirt and sand now left in the street not being cleared."

Nendel's website says he works in ambient and guerrilla media, social media, design, interactive marketing, design consultation and print media. It also says Kelly Leak, a character from the movie "The Bad News Bears," was his childhood hero.

"Kelly Leak was a rebel, the cool kid, a secret loner, and knew how to get the ladies," Nendel's website says. "I look back today and still want to be that rebel I grew up admiring so much."

And has skating Peachtree brought him closer to that goal?

"Now that I'm one step closer with the rebel cool points earned by this stunt I feel this is only the beginning to the completion of my dream," Nendel says. "So keep an eye open at all times cause you will never know what I might try next."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

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December 16 2010


CNN's Joshua Levs Uses Social Media Savvy in Hard, Soft News

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

When Joshua Levs left NPR's Atlanta Bureau to become a correspondent for CNN, he found that something was missing. Specifically, it was time. The rapid pace of TV left him with a fraction of the time he once had to present the many layers of a story. In the end, Levs saw that social media could fill the gap and provide an additional avenue for him to share information and connect.

"I like to give more information," Levs said. "Social media is a way for me to tell you more than I can on air." That's one reason he often closes a story by saying that he'll post additional details on his Twitter account or Facebook page.

One of the most social media-savvy journalists in broadcast news, the Murrow-award winner and Yale grad has carved out a niche both in complex international and economic stories, and fun, offbeat features such as his weekly "Viral Video Rewind" segment. (Anchor Kyra Phillips last month called him one of CNN's "premier Facebookers.") But social media isn't just about getting information out there -- it's also about bringing it in.

"He knows how to strike the right balance between using it as a way to get leads for an ongoing story and using it to share his own thoughts with the world at large," says Sree Sreenivasan, the dean of student affairs at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a professor of digital media who teaches social media workshops. "Unlike Josh, too many journalists only use it as a one-way communications tool."

Iran Protests

One of Levs' most recognizable efforts was his coverage of the violent Iran election protests in June 2009.

"The Iran riots showed us that times have changed," Levs said. "A few Tweets can lead you to discover something that an entire country with soldiers doesn't want you to know. It was a huge change. It was a sign that newsgathering now has a new option."

Even though Iran banned journalists from covering protests over the disputed victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outraged citizens posted videos of the violent repercussions online. A CNN editorial team worked around the clock reviewing them.

"We would talk and look at the videos that came in and say, 'What do we know about it? Can we verify anything here? Do we recognize the location? Is there anyone at all we can reach to help us understand what's in here?' It went through a pretty complex and important -- but also swift -- vetting process," Levs said.

Finally they decided which videos to air, and which ones needed scenes blurred, like the death of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan.

"That one was particularly shocking ... horrifying," he said. "We studied it to try to gather any information we could about the location, confirm the authenticity, etc. We had native speakers listen to the words being shouted. It's a devastating video to see, and being the one to tell the world about Neda was not an easy task. But it was important."

Levs presented the videos with what he describes as a message of total transparency.

"We would say on the air, 'Look, because of these limitations now inside Iran, there's a lot we cannot tell you; here's what we do know about this video,'" he said.

Election Coverage

Today, social media is a critical daily newsgathering tool. For example, Levs covered voting irregularities in the November elections this year, just as he did in 2008. But this year brought a large-scale social media outreach to viewers.

"We said 'Hey, any information you get, any experiences you have, and questions, problems -- get in touch with us,'" he said.

Watch him in action during the election:

Levs said he's seeing more law enforcement and court officials using social media when big stories break. For example, law enforcement officials used Twitter to update the media during September's hostage stand-off at Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Politicians and even federal agencies now use social media.

"There are people out there who don't use Twitter much, or don't know how to use it, and they say, 'You can't report what you see on Twitter,'" he said. "Right -- you can't report what some random person puts on Twitter. But when it's an official agency that's putting information out there, that's what you should be reporting. You make sure that you're dealing with official sourcing and then you grab it and you say, 'They just put this information out there.' That's our new reality. It used to be fast. Now it really is instantaneous."

Just as using social media for newsgathering requires caution, communicating with viewers takes care as well, according to Levs.

He said reporters should be sure they only post items of value that are appropriate and worthy of being in print or on the air.

"It's easy to get lost in the maze on Twitter and on Facebook, so you want to be sure that you keep in mind what your role is -- that's what you're focusing on all the time," he said.

Levs on the Lookout

His job also has a lighter side. Every weekend his "Levs on the Lookout" segment highlights the week's most unique stories. It opens with animation that one of his producers says highlights his "animated personality."

He also features some of the week's most interesting and often funniest viral videos.

"For me, Viral Video Rewind is a weekly dessert," Levs said. "I cover so many hard news stories all week -- sometimes three or four different topics in a single day. But these videos also say a lot about us and our society at this time. They're reflections of what excite and fascinate people. Plus, when you look back at previous generations, you don't just look at the news stories that were above the fold on newspapers. You also look at what movies and shows they were excited about. That's what viral videos are in this era."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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November 21 2010


A Viral Video Takedown of Public Radio (in 5 Acts)

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Why is NPR such an easy target for comedy bits and video parodies? It doesn't take a regular listener of Science Friday to figure it out. They're a bunch of mega-nerds.

With every subtle use of alliteration, every time Robert Siegel says "draconian," and each transitional upright bass interlude, they slap a big fat "kick me" sign in the middle of their own backs.

Want to know the five reasons comedians love to hate public radio? As Ira Glass would say, stay with us.

Act I: Hearing Absurdly Perfect Voices

God do their voices sound good. (Ira Glass is the exception.) If we stopped absorbing the content of their reporting and just listened to their silky baritones and rich tenors, we might mistake them for come-ons. YouTube personality Liam Kyle Sullivan gives us a peek into the people behind the voice.

Act II: Attack of the Pledge Drive

We all dread those never-ending, shame-inducing pleas for our hard earned $20.00. Funny or Die explores how NPR stations use guilt to get us to pay their salaries.

Act III: Inane Topics in Soothing Tones

It seems like public radio hosts could talk about the sleep patterns of box turtles for days if we allowed them, but we all just really want to hear Terry Gross talk dirty. (Right? I'm not alone here am I?) Unless your name is Francis Davis, this classic SNL sketch is as close as we'll ever get.

And we can't forget Betty White's recent contribution.

Act IV: Stop the Music!

If I ever see a band billed: "As Featured in NPR Segues," I will run away, fast and far. Here, the always hilarious Patton Oswalt dissects the music of NPR for us (fast forward to minute 2:00 in this clip):

Jokes.comPatton Oswalt - Man Without a Countrycomedians.comedycentral.comRead Patton Oswalt's biographyWatch Patton Live at the New York Comedy FestivalFind more from this comedian in the Shop.

Act V: Those Pretentious Listeners

Public radio fans are the worst. I should know, I am one. From my colleagues at Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy:

House-Sittin': NPR BattleUCBcomedy.comWatch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at UCBcomedy.com


Got a favorite viral public media spoof? Tell us about it in the comments.

Todd Bieber writes and directs videos, mostly comedy and documentary, or some combination of the two. He is currently Director of Content and Production for Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy. Previous to this he worked at the Onion News Networks as Footage Coordinator, occasional Director of Photography, and a freelance Contributing Writer during their Peabody Award Winning year. His work has been featured in a bunch of film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and AFI. His various viral videos have been watched over 13 million times and have been featured on the New York Times' website, Entertainment Weekly's website, Huffington Post, and his mom's Facebook Wall.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

March 18 2010


Greenpeace’s Kit Kat video: behind the scenes at Nestle



Nestle staffer 1: “Greenpeace have done a viral video attacking our sourcing policy. I do so hope people don’t pass it on and it becomes a huge viral hit.”

Nestle staffer 2: “Yes. I know what will stop people passing it around and it becoming a huge viral hit: get YouTube to take it down for alleged copyright infringement.”

Nestle staffer 1: “Yes, that will definitely stop people passing it around and it becoming a huge viral hit. That is a good idea and I hope you get all the credit for that.”

December 09 2009


Ogilvy, Marketers Tap Metacafe to Gain Views for Branded Video Campaigns

Sara Lee's recent "Mama Saga" campaign is a good example of how viral video made by a brand can take off, sometimes unexpectedly, said Jack Rotherham, senior VP of strategic sales and partnerships at Metacafe.

The iconic food brand launched its first big social media campaign this fall for its deli meats line and created three mom-centric viral videos for the marketing push that included a buy on the video portal Metacafe, which counts 14 million unique visitors per month in the United States watching 60 million videos, according to comScore numbers provided by Metacafe.

Agencies are keen on Metacafe these days.

Metacafe has been out-performing other shared video sites when it comes to search shelf space, which made us sit up and take notice," said Robert Davis, leader of the online video practice at Ogilvy, in an email interview with Beet.TV. "It had always been in our arsenal, and is now one of favored partners because the attention they pay to making the most of organic search. We feel somewhat like kin with the Metacafe team, as they truly are looking at the big picture of distributed video content."

Rotherham said the site will be pursuing more branded entertainment deals in 2010. As for the Sara Lee campaign, "These caught," Rotherham said. "We broke through the million-view mark in a matter of weeks. As much as we like to profess we understand this business, and we do, it's really fun when a marketer comes across new assets that might not be so predictable." Metacafe built a branded Sara Lee Channel on its site that included the trio of mom confessional videos, including one that earned more than 800,000 views by itself. The campaign included a "modest" media buy, Rotherham said.

In fact, Metacafe has upped the number of brands advertising on its site and said revenue is up 50% over last year as a result. Marketers on the site include Disney, Apple, EA, and others.

The Sara Lee campaign is a useful one for brands to check out because it illustrates the benefits of good creative, something that is all too often missing in online video campaigns. But creative alone isn't enough, Rotherham said: "The challenges are getting the clip to the ecosystem and finding the right formula for it to be viewed. You can't predict a viral hit. The genius of the ecosystem is the community will decide if a clip catches on."Still, popular portals can help a video along with site promotion and by placing it in the proper sections and directories of a site, he explained.

Daisy Whitney, Senior Producer

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